By Rita Thiel
It’s a Saturday afternoon. Nothing is out of the ordinary, and as you stroll through a store you are suddenly paralyzed by an uncontrollable rush of anxiety triggering a physical reaction that you fear will culminate in seizures…again.
In steps Addie, a 2-year-old Norwegian Elkhound and a North Carolina-certified service animal.
She pushes against your leg to draw your focus, prompting you to “get low” so that she can climb into your lap to calm you down and bring you back to yourself.
Rich Canino, an Ocracoke resident and Army veteran, has avoided another excruciatingly painful experience.
This scenario is all too common for those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Canino lives with it daily.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, PTSD, once referred to as battle fatigue or shell shock, is a debilitating, unpredictable disorder manifested through mental and physical disturbances.
Caused by experiencing traumatic, life-threatening events, PTSD affects an estimated 8 percent (about 24.4 million) of military servicemen and women at some point in their lives.
Unless you’ve experienced PTSD, you might have difficulty imagining just how earth-shattering these episodes can be.
This is where trained service animals come in. Addie, Canino’s immediate rescue provider, protector and guardian, serves him around the clock.
Addie’s extraordinary senses will notice an ever-so-slight change in Canino’s behavior before an anxiety attack occurs, usually about 10 minutes prior.
She warns him by moving into immediate physical contact with him. Whether it’s by climbing into his lap, pushing against his legs or barking directly at him, she sounds the alert that gives Canino time to make needed behavioral adjustments to stave off the oncoming anxiety attack and possible seizure.
Canino’s lifeline, Addie enables him to “live again and not just sit on the couch,” he said. “She’s the light at the end of my tunnel.”
But the light that is Addie may go out and jeopardize her use as Canino’s service dog.
She has congenital cataracts that has already caused near blindness and is progressively getting worse. Addie’s eyesight is crucial because if she can’t see, she will just bark, which could result in the wrong signals—confusing non-threatening situations with anxiety triggers.
He has recently noticed her over-reacting to loud noises and strange sounds, compensation because of her failing eyesight.
Canino wants to give back to Addie as much as she has given to him.
“She has given me my life back and I want to do everything I can for her,” he said.
Canino and fiancée Dana Long, a paramedic on Ocracoke, need help to pay for Addie’s double cataract eye surgery.
Special veterinarians working through Animal Eye Care, a network based in Virginia, will perform the surgery for about $3,000 plus post-op costs. The couple set up a Facebook page “Addie’s Eyes,” and a Go-Fund-Me page, called “Addie (Service Dog)” to help raise the needed funds. To date, donations total $1,511.
“I’m just asking for help,” Canino said with a depth of emotion and love for Addie that fills the room.
With surgery, Addie’s eyesight would be restored almost 100 percent, and Canino and Long are ready to take her for surgery at a moment’s notice as soon as they have enough money.
Addie’s plight has enhanced Canino’s awareness of the benefit that service dogs could provide all veterans.
“There are thousands of animals in shelters who can be trained,” Canino said of the situation facing military veterans waiting for service animals. “Research has shown that there is no breed of dog that can’t be trained into service. It’s insane that so many men and women–veterans–are waiting for these service dogs because the money isn’t available to them to purchase and train them. Addie saved me.”
No health insurance or government aid covers any of the costs of owning or training service animals. And that cost is high, ranging from $15,000 to $50,000, depending on the dog.
Fortunately, a service trainer in Ohio who connects veterans with trained rescue dogs, provided Canino with Addie.
Others aren’t so lucky.
“There are people out there deserving of the services provided by a service animal, and the sheer fact they have to wait two to four years to even find an available animal and get it in to train as a service animal is infuriating,” Canino said.
This would be an outstanding way to give shelter dogs their lives and purposes back, and in turn give our military servicemen and women a “light at the end of the tunnel.”
To help Canino outright, donations can be mailed to Addie’s Eyes C/O Dana Long, P.O. Box 174, Ocracoke, N.C. 27960; directly deposited into the account Dana Long- Addie’s Eyes in the Ocracoke First National Bank.
Veteran’s Day is celebrated on Nov. 12.